Skip to main content

Full text of "Alexander von Humboldt"

See other formats


120-4                                     LIFE  OF
-coverer of those districts : his great work was directly
•allied to theresultsof the physicalknowledgeof the world
acquired by these oceanic discoveries, which extended
the horizon by a new world.   Humboldt's name, there-
fore, ranks with  those  of Albertus Magnus, Roger
Bacon, Vincent de Beauvais, Columbus, and Gama.
The two last named men are the conquerors of the
space on which Humboldt cleared away obscurity, and
opened the land to science.    But the Pacific was also
opened to the comprehension of men ;  not only the
form of the western coast of the world, but the form
of the eastern coast of the old world, was ascertained,
for, as Humboldt shows, the knowledge of the numeric
relation of the bulk of water and land on our planet
was freed from erroneous results, and the condition of
many other phenomena, such as the degree of mois-
ture in the atmosphere, the varying atmospheric pres-
sure, the vegetative power of plants, the greater or
lesser distribution of certain families of animals, was
explained.   The western nations of Europe had, there-
fore, the richest store of material for a study of phy-
sical geography at their command in a very excited
age, where a numerous European population were in
the most direct intercourse with a great, new, and
magnificent tropical nature in the American plains and
Vega says that man^ on his journeys to distant
regions, sees land and stars change at the same time,
-and it therefore follows in the development of natural
knowledge that important discoveries on the earth
must increase our knowledge of the world, or, raore
accurately, of the firmament. By the employment of
perflected telescopes new regions of the heavens were
revealed, and a new world of ideas born. Columbus
gained a large space of earth for humanity ; Coperni-
cus, almost at the same time, made similar discoveries
in the universe, and the telescope enlarged the circle
* Compare Humboldt's critical investigations into the historical
•development of a geographical knowledge of the new world and of
nautical sistronomy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries*